Virtual and Augmented Reality for education: Part 1 AR

vr & ar for education

Virtual Reality (VR) lets people enter and interact with an immersive virtual world, while Augmented Reality (AR) enables people to see and explore visual media, superimposed on their real-world visual field. Using dedicated AR glasses or a smartphone, users can explore their world in an engaging, immersive way.

Most AR experiences are focused on exploring 3D content, but augmented reality is also used to change the way we see what is already visible. AR apps on smartphones with front facing cameras can use filters to change our physical appearance, let us ‘try on’ new glasses or makeup, and create customized backgrounds for videoconferencing. This kind of AR has millions of daily users.  


Some interesting facts about  how people use VR and AR today:

  • There are an estimated 171 million VR users worldwide. 
  • As of 2022, the VR gaming industry has a market size of US $12.13 billion
  • 25- to 34-year-olds account for 23% of VR/AR device users. 
  • Worldwide spending on AR and VR technology is expected to reach US $72.8 billion in 2024. 
  • This is up from the approximately $12 billion spent on AR and VR in 2020 and creates a five-year CAGR of 54%.
  • In 2024, it’s predicted that commercial AR and VR purchases will add up to about US$10.9 billion, while consumer spending will amount to US$17.6 billion.


What is Augmented Reality in education?

One of the most exciting applications of AR technology today, however, is in the area of education.

There has been great interest in using the capabilities of AR to educate students in new and more engaging ways, and there are many AR apps already on the market. Empowered by low-threshold tools for creating 3D content and AR experiences, educators themselves are also creating AR learning experiences. Creating 3D content is getting easier and easier, with free apps such as Scainvers, Polycam and Luma. Online 3D tools such as Tinkercad are a great start.

So how is AR being used in education today, and what does the future hold for this promising area of application?


The benefits of AR in education

There are numerous benefits of AR in education, but there are some areas where it has the greatest impact. Looking at the capabilities of AR itself, it can enable students to experience a deeper connection with intangible concepts. AR also has particular applicability for any situation where the learning object is 3-dimensional, historical (or future), physically distant, or otherwise inaccessible. As you can imagine, this covers a lot of areas where AR can be used.

With AR, students can see the inner workings of living creatures, explore long-lost cities, and zoom-in on the microscopic world. They can see how engines work, look back in time, learn about abstract scientific or mathematical concepts in a more tangible way, and many more things besides.

Visualizing learning material provides a rapid learning curve for students. In addition, by using VR and AR, you gain access to a lot of scale-models that normally wouldn’t be available for classrooms. For example, imagine a history lesson about the first steam-powered tractor, or a biology lesson about the blue whale. Models for both of these can be explored in the Fectar app for free. 

Looking beyond this, it’s easy to predict a future in which our jobs make regular use of VR and AR. Consider the many occupations in which safety-goggles are already a requirement; in just a few years these may be equipped with cameras and displays. A large benefit is that VR and AR models produce no physical waste, and they can be used to try-out a physical object like furniture or a new bathroom fixture (without expenditure or costly errors), just by using the Fectar app.


What is the effect of using AR for education?

Beyond the innate capabilities of AR itself, there are secondary benefits that come from the way students interact with AR learning.

By taking an interactive, 3D and dynamic learning experience into the classroom, educators can provide optimized learning experiences for ‘practical learners’ and for subjects where a practical or manual process is involved – without consuming physical materials. Students are also more invested in the process and more engaged when they use their own phones for AR learning experiences.

Studies have verified this effect, and AR in education has been shown to enhance attention by 30.7%, and increase student confidence in the material by 10.7%. As a result, using AR in education can make distance learning more engaging, and this is increased by leveraging gamified experiences to make it more fun.

The use of Virtual Reality (VR) in education has also shown to have many of these benefits. However, unlike AR (which can be used by anyone with a sufficient smartphone), VR is much less accessible. Most people lack the specialized headsets needed. Fectar crosses the bridge between VR and AR. Everything you create in VR is also accessible with your smartphone. For example, if you give a demo in VR for 20 students, you only need 1 or 2 VR headsets. The other students can still  join the same session with a smartphone or tablet. 

And, what’s more, they can take the VR lesson back home and do it there as well with their smartphone. You create more opportunities for your course material to be used, and this results in a higher Return-on-Investment of all your learning materials.

As it’s so much more accessible, using AR in education can have a greater impact. It can reach more people worldwide. With an estimate of 2.4 billion smartphones (compared to approx 30 million VR headsets worldwide) that can participate in a VR/AR session with Fectar, it’s easier than ever for educators to create AR experiences using tools like the Fectar Studio. 

The more egalitarian qualities of AR, easy creation of 3D content, more moments of use, becoming device independent, and the high level of accessibility it offers means that it is now more cost-effective to include immersive AR learning experiences in the classroom.


Examples of using AR in education

There are many examples of AR in education today. Augmented reality is being used at all levels of the education system; from elementary schools, to universities teaching medicine. It is also being used in the workplace as part of training regimes.

One interesting example of AR for education is the MAIA system developed by Lockheed Martin. This state-of-the-art AR learning tool is designed to help astronauts develop new skills when deployed on deep-space missions. In these situations, the time it would take to send messages back to Earth (and get a reply) could take hours. Using the MAIA AR tool, astronauts can use a digital twin of their spacecraft (combined with an AI-teaching tool) to diagnose, debug and simulate potential fixes – and learn how to implement them. Future astronauts bound for Mars may well depend on this learning tool for their survival.  

Another example can be seen at the University of Rochester, where students have been researching how to build and control a chemical plant in AR. By using this immersive AR learning method, students gain an intuitive understanding of complex processes and their interdependencies.

Medicine is also an interesting area where AR is being used to train doctors and improve outcomes. 

While VR has a well-established role in this area, AR can be used in more patient-facing situations. Looking specifically at education, AR is used at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine to give surgeons virtual ‘X-ray’ vision. In 2020, Johns Hopkins surgeons performed their first AR procedures on spinal patients, using specially constructed AR glasses that superimposed internal anatomy onto the visual field. This technology can massively improve the training of spinal surgeons who can gain deeper experience without making costly mistakes.

AR is becoming widely adopted by the engineering and architecture fields. By seeing how projects look in a real environment, young architects can improve their designs long before they show a 3D model to a professor (or client). The same capabilities are extended to engineering students, who can get to grips with 3D models and simulations by having them in the palm of their hand.

Looking at schools generally, there are lots of AR learning experiences that are freely available to download. For example, educational publisher Vertoog integrated AR into their standard courseware for vocational education ( 

There are also many AR learning experiences that are free to access with the Fectar app, mostly created by the growing Fectar community, including experiences about the lifecycle of frogs, human anatomy, and the solar system.

As AR is becoming more accessible, 3D learning content will also become more widespread. For now, many of these are contained within their own apps. However, the future will see unified platforms like Fectar becoming hubs for immersive 3D content creation, sharing, and experience.

Best AR apps for education

There are some truly great apps for educational AR experiences. However, educators should be aware: once you introduce students to AR learning, there’s no turning back. They’ll be more engaged, and start taking an independent interest in their learning. You’ve been warned.

The best AR apps for education:

  • Froggipedia
    Ever wanted to peer inside a frog without hurting it? Students can learn about the full
    lifecycle of frogs, see the inner anatomical workings of these cute little amphibians.
  • SkyView Lite
    Perfect for learning about
    the constellations of stars above us. Just point and learn.
  • Skin & Bones
    Brings skeletons to life for visitors to the
    Bone Hall at Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum in Washington, DC.
  • Visible Body
    This app doesn’t let your lack of
    a cadaver get in the way of learning about human anatomy.
  • Fectar app
    A free app that gives users access to thousands of free
    AR experiences on the Fectar platform. Includes numerous educational AR experiences across several fields.


How to start using AR for education

While the benefits of AR in learning environments are clear, educators need to be aware of the equality of access to technology. Most students possess a smartphone that is capable of AR experiences, but some may not. In these cases, it is wise to consider ways to ensure that no student is left out. A good internet or mobile data connection may also be a factor for some AR experiences.

Beyond this, there is not much holding you back from starting to use AR in the classroom. It is an intuitive and easy way to learn, and no special training is needed to enjoy AR. Perhaps the best way to get started is to download the free Fectar app for yourself, and start exploring!

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